(This is not an official statement of policy by the Department of State; it is intended only as a guide to the contents of this volume.)

Since 1861, the Department of State’s documentary series Foreign Relations of the United States has constituted the official record of the foreign policy and diplomacy of the United States. Historians at the Office of the Historian collect, select, arrange, and annotate the principal documents that make up the record of American foreign policy. The standards for preparation of the series and general guidelines for the publication are established by the Foreign Relations of the United States statute of October 28, 1991. (22 USC 4351, et. seq.) Volumes in the Foreign Relations series are published when all necessary editing, declassification, and printing steps have been completed.

The documents in this volume are drawn primarily from the Department of State Central Files, the papers of President Lyndon B. Johnson and his advisers at the Johnson Library in Austin Texas, the decentralized lot files of the Department of State, the historical files of the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the files of the National Security Council, the records of the Secretary of Defense and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, the official records of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the files of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Almost all of the documents printed here were originally classified. The Information Response Branch of the Office of IRM Programs and Services, Bureau of Administration, Department of State, in concert with the appropriate offices in other agencies or governments, carried out the declassification of the selected documents in accordance with the applicable provisions of Executive Order 12958.

The following is a summary of the most important issues covered in the volume. Parenthetical citations are to numbered documents in the text.


The main topics covered in this volume are the nuclear capabilities and intentions of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, the status of U.S. nuclear preparedness, issues of chemical and biological weapons, and contingency plans in case of attack on the United States.

The Vietnam war remained a preoccupation for the Johnson administration and affected its officials’ thoughts on national security decisions, but the war itself is rarely mentioned in this volume. Because the war affected both budgetary and personnel concerns among all the armed services, it is referred to on occasion in documents dealing with budget and force level issues. Readers desiring more specific information on the Vietnam policies of the administration should consult volumes I VII of the Foreign Relations 1964–1968 subseries. Volumes I IV, covering 1964–1966, have been published.

The documents in this volume convey a sense of the dangers and uncertainty in the world situation. Both U.S. and Soviet leaders understood that a general war between the two superpowers could quickly escalate into a destructive nuclear war. In a December 10, 1965, memorandum to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs McGeorge Bundy, Spurgeon Keeny of the National Security Council Staff summarized the latest intelligence on Soviet anti-ballistic missile (ABM)-type systems. While noting that there did not seem to be any realistic threat to the United States, he added, “this isn’t to say you shouldn’t still be scared.” (107) Further, a year later, Donald Hornig, the President’s Special Assistant for Science and Technology, sharing his observations with Walt Rostow, the President’s Special Assistant, on a likely Soviet reaction to a U.S. ABM deployment, commented that “in judging possible Soviet reaction, one cannot underestimate the extent to which they apparently feel themselves ‘under the gun’.” (156)

The issue of U.S. development and deployment of an ABM system became controversial during the Johnson administration. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) were its main promoters, periodically making their case for the ABM system, variously named Nike-Zeus, Nike-X, and Sentinel. (21, 22, 61, 101, 102, 104, 105, 152, 153, 155, 160, 161, 163, 165, 190)

One of the JCS’s favorite arguments in favor of deployment of an ABM system, such as Nike-X, was the fact that the Soviets had apparently already developed one. U.S. intelligence was initially unable to classify the system, named Tallinn and centered around Moscow, as air defense, ABM, or dual-purpose. The ambiguity served the Chiefs well, as they cited intelligence estimates and analysis on the system as proof of the Soviet Union’s hostile intent and reasons for the United States to develop Nike-X fully. This early intelligence ambiguity would return to haunt them, however, as more information was gathered about the Tallinn system. The conclusion was that it was a weak and rather ineffective system and posed no major threat to America’s assured destruction capability. (68, 73, 88, 103, 106, 107, 130, 146, 147, 156, 161)

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who was skeptical not only of Nike-X’s efficacy and expense but also its actual deterrence value, staunchly resisted any firm commitment to an ABM system. There was in fact widespread agreement in the U.S. Government that an ABM system would not be capable of fully defending the United States from an all-out Soviet attack. The JCS argued that saving some lives and affording some protection to the U.S. retaliatory capacity would justify the expense. McNamara countered that the Soviet Union would only increase its offensive capability enough to overwhelm Nike-X, with the result that the United States would have to spend many more billions of dollars for no real increase in protection. The United States, he argued, should instead depend on the deterrence already provided by American capacity to inflict assured destruction on the Soviet Union.

The political objections to the deployment of the Nike-X system were almost equal to the military defense concerns. Protecting only 25 cities would be politically indefensible, and a “thin” system would further leave the administration open to attacks from both those in favor of and opposed to an ABM system. As Spurgeon Keeny observed: “the anti-ABM forces will consider it a foot in the door, and the pro-ABM forces would consider it a grossly inadequate system which fails to protect the US population against the Soviet threat.” (198) The difference implied by the terms “thick” and “thin” regarding a Nike-X deployment is misleading. The “thin” system would cover 15 or 25 U.S. cities, while the “thick” system would cover 25 or 50 cities, with overlap among sectors. This limited number of protected cities was one of Nike-X’s greatest domestic shortcomings. While it was predicted the American public would complain about a perceived weakness in the nation’s defense system, residents of the cities and areas not specifically protected by Nike-X would demand protection equal to their counterparts. McNamara continued to counsel President Johnson against Nike-X deployment, telling him that while Congress might “crucify” him for testifying against a full ABM system, he nevertheless felt deployment was wrong. (167) Further, there were concerns not only about the Soviet reaction, but also Allied reactions. To its critics, Nike-X seemed to be perhaps a clever idea militarily, but politically ill-starred.

The proponents of Nike-X revealed the strong emotions behind their arguments. General McConnell pithily espoused strongly negative feelings about the Soviets in a December 6, 1966, meeting when he reminded his colleagues that “we are dealing with the descendants of Genghis Khan. They only understand force.” (150) McNamara realized that politically a decision rejecting Nike-X would be troublesome for the nation, emotionally as much as rationally.

While the Soviet threat remained preeminent, as evinced by the number of documents in this volume dedicated to estimates of its offensive and defensive capabilities, retaliatory ability, and weapons development, the Chinese threat also received increased attention. The Johnson administration did not wish unintentionally to grant China a higher status militarily simply because of its developing nuclear weapons program, yet it did not want to leave the nation vulnerable to potential attack by the Chinese Communists. While the general consensus was that it would be “suicidal” for the Chinese to launch a nuclear attack on the United States (166), McNamara and his allies in the national security establishment considered the Nike-X system as a limited defense system primarily against the Chinese threat, not the Russian threat for which it had been conceived as a deterrent.

The debate on the ABM system also impacted on U.S. arms control policies. Arms control proponents in the administration worried that a U.S. decision to deploy the ABM would fuel a new arms race with the Soviet Union, while deferral of that decision would facilitate the administration’s efforts to reach agreement with the Soviet Union to begin negotiations on the control of offensive and defensive strategic missiles. Additional documentation on the debate on the ABM issue and its relationship to arms control is in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XI, Arms Control and Disarmament, published in 1997.

Within the administration, McNamara and the JCS battled on other strategic weapons programs. McNamara opposed development of an Advanced Manned Strategic Aircraft (AMSA), instead opting for the FB–111 and retention of some B–52s in the defense inventory. (1, 10, 31) He also vetoed development of a new ICBM, preferring to upgrade Minuteman III; of penetration aids for both Minuteman and Poseidon; and of a ballistic missile ship, on the ground that Polaris submarines were much more survivable. He also chose to upgrade the F–106 instead of developing the F–12, a new fighter aircraft, and deferred deployment of SAM-D, a continental air defense system. McNamara also resisted JCS efforts to increase the number of deployed Minuteman missiles (21, 31) and to develop higher-yield nuclear warheads. (25, 28, 29)

During this time, the SR–71 reconnaissance aircraft was developed, and President Johnson decided to make its existence public, as well as the U.S. capacity to destroy satellites using nuclear armed missiles. (5, 53) Atlas and Titan ICBMs were gradually phased out, and the B–52 airborne alert was ended. (109) An extensive study by the President’s Science Advisory Council found the Navy poorly organized, with insufficient capabilities to conduct effective anti-submarine warfare, and steps were taken to improve performance. (99, 124, 201)

Another complex military-political issue was the U.S. position on chemical and biological weapons. The United States had not signed the 1925 Geneva accord calling for “Prohibition of the Use of Asphyxiating, Poisonous, and Other Gases and Bacteriological Methods of Warfare,” and the administration was facing increasing pressure to define its stance on such weapons. While there was little disagreement over publicly stating a “no-first-use” policy, the question of so-called incapacitating agents, such as riot control gases and defoliation agents being used by American forces in Vietnam, caused debate. Were such agents considered to be chemical and biological weapons? How could the United States claim a no-first-use policy while still using such agents? Such questions were raised both inside and outside the government, providing yet another example where the issue of Vietnam crept into the debate on national security issues. (121, 122, 127, 153, 154, 173, 178, 220)

Still another sensitive topic for the administration was crisis management. Various departments within the administration were tasked with creating or updating plans for the handling and management of crises. Plans were drafted to improve command and control support for the President, in times of either general or nuclear war, as well as to ensure the survivability of the National Command Authority, i.e., the President and his successors as well as senior officers within executive departments, such as State and Defense. Senior policymakers would eventually decide that the nature of the crisis would dictate not only where the President would go, but whom he would want with him. (62, 64, 77, 86, 87, 89, 92, 177)

Despite initial opposition from the JCS, the civilian Defense Department leadership developed plans for a Deep Underground Command Center (DUCC) in the Washington, DC area. The DUCC was presented as an emergency command post, capable of functioning as a war-time government headquarters, much as London’s Cabinet War Rooms had during World War II. This site, however, was to be much larger. The JCS noted that a 50-man DUCC would serve only as a survival facility, as it would be inadequate to house the National Command Authority and the minimum staff needed to support them. The Chiefs argued, however, that a 300-man DUCC would be inadequate for military purposes. (3) Many were skeptical, not only about the sheer size and feasibility of such a project, but also because the President had the National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP) and the National Emergency Command Post Afloat (NECPA) at his disposal in time of crisis. Some also pointed out that the President might choose to stay in Washington in time of crisis. (77) A further drawback to the DUCC plan was the 5 years required to create such a site and make it functional, and the construction cost of $310 million. Congress, was skeptical too, and provided only limited funding; by 1966 the DUCC project was virtually dead. (3, 4, 52, 92)

Crisis planning included fine-tuning procedures to be followed for use of nuclear weapons under emergency conditions, particularly where American allies were directly involved. (16, 17, 20, 62, 81, 90, 96, 114, 219) One eventually agreed-upon requirement involved installation of permissive action link (PAL) devices on nuclear weapons located in NATO countries in Europe, and eventually other areas of U.S. concern. The PAL device would require some sort of programmed code or card to allow the weapon to release and fire, thus preventing an accidental nuclear incident, and minimizing the dangers of deliberate and harmful weapons crew action. (123, 193)

While there was no disagreement that U.S. nuclear forces should be capable of assured destruction of the Soviet Union and China, the JCS took it as a given that the damage-limiting mission (counterforce) should be assured as well. McNamara was not so certain. He first questioned the scale of counterforce needed, and further held that the damage-limiting mission needed to be part of a more balanced program including fallout protection (shelters) and ABM capabilities. He continued to distance himself from the idea, and by the end of 1968, his successor, Clark Clifford, was questioning the feasibility of damage limitation entirely, much to the JCS’s consternation.

This debate extended also to tactical nuclear weapons, which the Kennedy administration had not resolved. (21) McNamara thought that their use would lead to rapid escalation to general nuclear war, while the State Department detailed studies of their deterrent utility in both Europe and the Far East. Further, the concept of limited war with the Soviets remained unresolved. The JCS felt that the Soviet Union was unlikely to use tactical nuclear weapons in a limited war (43), and the State Department was concerned that sufficient conventional forces be maintained to reassure the Europeans of the ability to repulse a Soviet attack without resort to nuclear weapons. This debate was subsumed as a more flexible response plan gained widespread acceptance.

McNamara emerges as the dominant figure in many documents in this volume. Far from creating his own policy within the Defense Department, he was keenly aware of President Johnson’s views, priorities, and public stances, as well as his own role as conduit between the White House and the military establishment. He realized his job was to rein in the JCS and the military services, and also to present defense policy to America, thereby serving as a level of insulation for the President, particularly when the decision was not likely to be popular, such as the decisions against a Nike-X deployment. McNamara remained in close contact with Johnson, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and other top policymakers to ensure the appropriateness of Defense Department actions on a world stage involving more than simply military force.

McNamara’s speech to a United Press International meeting in San Francisco in September 1967 confirmed his central position on national security policy. In his speech he explained the nuclear situation as the United States understood it and announced America’s intentions to develop and refine an ABM system to defend against Communist China. His speech had been carefully examined and discussed in advance in several parts of the administration, and had been vetted by President Johnson himself, who was supportive of McNamara’s clear outline of American policy. (192)

Other Kennedy administration preoccupations also continued, notably those involving formulation of a Basic National Security Policy, as well as counter-insurgency. The Basic National Security Policy idea, begun during the Eisenhower administration and which had languished during the Kennedy presidency, resurfaced several times (19), but the resurrections produced nothing concrete. The JCS felt that while a single document clearly formulating American’s concerns would be “desirable in principle,” it might quickly become so broad as to be meaningless. (75) One attempt to formulate a basic doctrine was Walt Rostow’s 1965 paper, “Some Reflections on National Foreign Policy,” which summed up America’s most basic concerns within the global diplomatic scene and concluded with a call for a “clear US sense of direction, quiet leadership, and persistence.” (80)

The administration also tried to improve the coordination and handling of intelligence. The Net Evaluation Studies Committee (NESC), which had been created in 1958 to provide “integrated evaluations of the net capabilities of the USSR, in the event of general war, to inflict direct injury upon the Continental United States and to provide a continual watch for changes which would significantly alter those net capabilities,” was abolished and its functions transferred to the Defense Department. (71, 82) As McNamara pointed out to Johnson, neither the JCS nor the Office of the Secretary of Defense had a capability to perform such studies at that time. (72) As chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), General Taylor later tried to revive the net evaluation studies, but Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford successfully resisted the proposal. (211, 214, 215, 218)

The administration also renamed the Special Group 5412, which had considered covert actions, the 303 Committee. One of the issues the 303 Committee considered was the administration’s response to the public exposure of the covert funding for several well-known institutions, such as the Asia Foundation, the National Student Foundation, and Radio Free Europe. (132, 134, 171, 176, 180, 209) The 303 Committee scrambled to find alternative funding for these valued organizations, while minimizing the negative impact the revelations of covert funding provoked. Additional documentation on these intelligence issues will be included in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XXXIII, Organization and Management of Foreign Policy.

JCS budget priorities would not disappear. The North Korean seizure of the USS Pueblo in January 1968, causing an indefinite temporary deployment of Air Force resources to northeast Asia, confirmed JCS concerns that U.S. commitments in Asia severely limited strategic options. (202) The Chiefs noted that B–52 deployments to the western Pacific and Korea meant that there was a 200-target degradation from the military’s targeting plans, as set forth in the Single-Integrated Operations Plan (SIOP). Moreover, there were no major army forces ready to reinforce NATO without redeployment from Southeast Asia, or a Reserve callup. Redeployment did not seem likely, however, as President Johnson had told the National Security Council in 1966 that, despite pressure from various “generals” about appropriate actions in Vietnam, he had chosen his course and was “absolutely determined to see it through. No one should be under any illusion that we will be pulling out.” (129) Additional JCS concerns centered on the fear that U.S. military forces might be needed for other crises, both international and domestic (such as having to cope with “civil disturbances stemming from racial disorders and anti-draft/anti-Vietnam movements.” (202) The JCS proposed significant budget increases, but the approaching 1968 Presidential campaign and President Johnson’s decision not to seek re-election put further action on hold.